Meet the Million Dollar Crew: Steven Donovan
Over the last two years, we’ve watched Steven Donovan push the envelope with 360 content, leaving us and thousands of others watching and rewatching his seamless loops.
Known as the 360 wizard, over the last year Steven chased opportunities across the U.S., hustling to build his portfolio while working odd jobs to make ends meet.
And the result? Not one, but FIVE of Steven’s clips made it into this year’s HERO8 + MAX Million Dollar Challenge video. We were especially curious about one clip: The insane rope swing off of El Capitan. How does one find themself swinging off a 3,000 foot granite monolith?!
Stepping outside of his comfort zone in more ways than one, Steven put himself in front of the lens for a change to get this clip and took a leap of faith—literally.
GoPro: Swinging off of El Cap ... supes casual. What went into making this shot happen?
Steven: I turned down this swing almost exactly two years prior because it absolutely terrified me. I didn't have too much regret not doing it since I'm perfectly content capturing the stunts and don't feel a particular draw to scaring myself for the adrenaline rush. Swinging off the top of El Cap is truly a once in a lifetime experience, so when I got a second chance at it, I had a feeling it was something I shouldn't pass up again.
I was pretty anxious the week leading up to it and barely slept at all the night before, but as soon as I clipped my harness into that rope, (most) of that anxiety went away and I felt pretty calm about the whole thing. As soon as the swing was in motion, I had this intense wave of euphoria and felt a huge weight come off my shoulders for having done it.
I've never felt the need to prove myself doing these stunts, but I think part of that has always been out of fear. I didn't feel the need to prove myself to any of my friends that were there, but to prove to myself that I could over come this huge mental block that had my brain telling me I was going to die if I did this swing.
What GoPro were you using + settings?
I knew I wanted to capture every angle of this moment to relive forever so having the MAX with me iss my number one choice. I usually shoot in the highest capture quality of 6k at 30fps.
It was kind of last minute that I decided to get the foot cam angle, which I got by loosing up my shoe laces and putting my mouth mount underneath the laces, then tying them super tight. I figured my leg was like an extended self that still left one of my hands free to hold the rope. So this time, I shot in HERO mode using the Max SuperView digital lens at 1080p 120fps because I knew I'd want to slow that short free fall down as much as possible while also maintaining a very wide angle view to capture everything.
Not once, but twice you’ve now made it into Million Dollar Challenge videos. How does it feel to be a two-time Million Dollar Challenge awardee?
Being featured in the Million Dollar Challenge last year rocked my world and completely changed my life.
I didn't necessarily change my life and my routines, but it gave me the support to keep doing what I was doing, upgrade to a van from a little truck I was living out of and helped me to stay focused on capturing the content I was truly passionate about instead of whatever would put food on my plate.
Did you put a lot of pressure on yourself to keep topping up your content?
Subconsciously maybe, but I wouldn't call it pressure. It's just a natural fascination for coming up with new creative angles which are pretty endless when it comes to the MAX. I've really dove into 360 the past couple years and feel like I'm only scraping the surface with what kind of creative shots are possible.
What are you going to put the earnings toward this time around?
Pretty much the same as last year and just pour all the winnings back into this lifestyle to keep adventuring and living on the road. Now that I have the van of my dreams, I'll probably spend some money on getting new tires, shocks, solar and other upgrades to the van. I have also spent the past few months investing in my own business venture by creating a custom 30-foot carbon fiber pole with a manufacturing company that I will have for sale soon.
I take life one day at a time and like to keep my schedule open for those last minute adventures that always seem to find me, but I also want put more effort this year into planning bigger trips and getting my own business up and running.
Any tips you’d give aspiring videographers or your younger self?
ORGANIZE YOUR FOOTAGE, seriously, organization is something I struggled with for years and still struggle with a bit, but I’ve gotten so much better at. The bigger file structure the better—folders are your friend.
Other than that I think it's really important to just trust in the process. It's so easy to get discouraged in the beginning and think you're ready for your big break, when you're really not. Don't wait for the opportunities to come to you, go after them as hard as you can because all of a sudden your big opportunity will come to you, but if you've been in the same place all along waiting for it you won't be ready and it will pass you up. In my own case, I always dreamed of shooting professional action sports but never had the access to pro athletes, so I shot whatever I could so that I could master becoming a pro at my own craft behind the camera.
With that being said, if you want to shoot action sports, you're not going to get there by shooting weddings. I got offered a full-time video job with benefits making swim training videos, but I turned it down to go out west and work seasonally. I cleaned toilets and carried peoples luggage up stairs for four summers in National Parks so I'd have access to the environments that all my biggest inspirations were shooting in. Get out of your comfort zone and so many incredible things will happen. Stepping out of my comfort zone eventually led to me swinging from the top of El Cap and being featured in the Million Dollar Challenge, but it was all the little steps along the way that prepare me for that moment.